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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Due to Technical Difficulties

Getting the Work in Progress Feature is Delayed

In some cases "work in progress" is textual, but the Mikaya folks are very visual, and we have not gotten all of the presentation bugs out yet. So while I am sure all of you are scattered to vacations and family and other end-of-the-year pleasures, I will still loyally blog away. So to show that I do listen to your suggestions, I rushed out and bought Nathalie Anger’s The Canon, which two of you had listed as an adult Best Book that could work for teenagers. I must admit to having quite mixed feelings about the book. The author is hell bent on proving that even though she is writing about science, every page, every paragraph, even every sentence is "fun." The most standard description of something ends with some mocking or self-mocking twist, always showing that this need not weigh us down, that we all know science is hard, and alien, and has left a trial of failure and humiliation in our lives. I find that style almost impossible to read — like eating a dessert so sweet it sets your teeth on edge. 
The odd thing she herself says how weird it is when people all speak about failing high school chemistry — as if this were a completely universal experience — meaning you almost have to hide it if you liked science. I was glad she pointed that out, the version I hear often in the kids book world is people saying how they hated, or failed, math — where it is almost a way of showing kinship, like a secret handshake to show you are a member of a lodge — where to like math makes you an outsider. I was never disciplined enough to be good at math, but when I worked hard enough to understand it, I found it fascinating. When I can ignore the confectionary sugar style of her prose, the book is full of rich and rewarding understandings.

For example, she quotes one scientist after another who says that — "science is not a body of fact. Science is a state of mind. It is a way of viewing the world, of facing reality square on but taking nothing on its face." That is great — I would only expand it to also include social science — although then we would get into questions about what "viewing" means, where empathy, sympathetic imagination, enters into the picture. But that shift in emphasis is my whole reason for this blog, for my columns, for my approach to nonfiction. Facts are great, they give us data. But our real goal in writing for young people is not just to present them with cool, fascinating, useful, important bits. Instead we are presenting them with an approach to the world, to knowledge, to the past, to the present, to the way things work, to the future they will inhabit. 

I will do my best to ignore the style of the book to get more of this delicious content. 



  1. Jeannine Atkins says:

    Whoops. The problem with a short blog recommendation is the incompleteness, and I’m sorry for not warning that I, too, felt The Canon would have better without the dumb jokes. I’m glad you’re soldiering through, as I found I could ignore them more as stylistic tics as I went along. Some of the interviews, and the anecdotes presented there, as you mention are so worth it.